Bottom line: With its weapon customization, multiple game modes, and quick load times, Catalyst Black is a fun online multiplayer to experience with friends. There are in-game purchases, but they aren't necessary to enjoy the game.
Plenty of weapon customization
Fast load times
Excellent touch controls and controller support
Some modes take a while to complete
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When it comes to a game's aesthetic, I'm usually pulled in if there are fantasy or sci-fi elements and luckily for me Catalyst Black supplies both. This online multiplayer centers around teammates wielding guns to take down large beasts and opponents in various modes. Players can also temporarily transform into powerful beasts known as Primals when a gauge counts down, which allows them to inflict far more damage for a short period.
I've been playing Catalyst Black on my iPad Air 5th Gen and iPhone 12 for six hours as of the time of this writing. It runs smoothly and feels very well-balanced despite there being a huge variety of weapons. Additionally, the various modes keep the gameplay fresh while the progression system has me coming back for more. Perhaps most importantly, while there are in-game purchases, I've never felt like I needed to buy anything to keep up with other players.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a copy of the game downloaded by iMore.
Catalyst Black: What's good
As with most free-to-play online multiplayer games these days, Catalyst Black eased me into the modes, upgrading system, and various mechanics by having me unlock more options as I played more rounds. This basically makes it so that the early levels of the game are the tutorial phase and more complex options are unlocked as I put more time in. I appreciated this as it made it so that I wasn't overwhelmed by everything the game has to offer... and there is a lot going on here.
|Developer||Super Evil Megacorp|
|Publisher||Super Evil Megacorp|
|Device Used||iPad Air (5th Gen), iPhone 12|
|Play Time||Depends on mode|
|Players||Multiplayer (varies depending on mode)|
|Launch Price||Free with in-game purchases|
There are eight distinct characters to choose from, four male and four female, but they are cosmetic and have no bearing on your stats. However, players can customize their attacks and abilities by equipping and upgrading seven different stat-influencing items. There's the primary weapon, heavy weapon, ability, trinket, relic, power, and mask. New gear can be earned by playing rounds or claiming rewards in the Quests menu.
Customization and weapon variety
I've honestly been really surprised by how many choices I've unlocked for free as I keep playing. There are several different Primary and Heavy weapons, which greatly change how your character moves, your range, and how much damage you inflict. For instance, the Splintered Fate works as a minigun to rapidly strike enemies at a distance, while the Brighton flamethrower inflicts more damage but doesn't have as far of a range.
There are trade-offs with different equipment, so I've needed to figure out which ones work best for me. The best gear and abilities change depending on what mode I'm playing, but I've found that I can always feel powerful and cater to my specific playstyle. Of course, I can also level up my gear by infusing it with items I've earned. The higher levels require rarer items, giving me something to work toward.
As players progress, they also unlock more Primal masks, which allow players to turn into powerful beasts on the battlefield. Each mask has a different focus. Some focus on melee while others are ranged attackers. It's very satisfying upgrading these masks and employing them strategically while in a round.
Keeping things fresh with game modes
There are currently five distinct modes in Catalyst Black, but only a basic point-based mode is available from the get-go. The others are unlocked by earning points after completing rounds until players eventually reach specific Ascension levels.
- Slayer PVP: Available from start. The first team to get to 25 points by taking down opponents wins.
- Hydra PVP: Unlocks at Ascension level 4. The first team to reach one of three goals wins. Either defeat the other team's Overseer, kill each opponent three times, or be the first to collect 20 shards.
- Colosseum PVE: Unlocks at Ascension level 8. Waves of enemies come at you and your team. Defeat each wave and then beat the final boss to win the round.
- Eventide PVP: Unlocks at Ascension level 15. The first team to score 28,000 points wins. Points are gained by capturing and holding outposts, winning PVP and PVE events, slaying major bosses, collecting shards, or defeating players and creatures.
- Capture the Flag PVP: Unlocks at Ascension level 20. Bring the enemy's flag to your base while your own flag is still there to score a point. The first team to five points wins.
These different focuses really help keep the game fresh. If my friends and I get tired of one mode, we can jump to another to spice things up again. Plus, with some modes offering multiple ways to win, there's always something to fight toward instead of just giving up because you know you'll never catch up to the other team.
Multiplayer for busy friends
These days, my friends and I sometimes find it hard to coordinate online gaming between our busy schedules. So, something that I really love about Catalyst Black is that it's aware that people have busy lives. Friends can use the lobbies to quickly find each other and stay together through multiple rounds. Additionally, players can drop in and out of games really easily without affecting other players. You can even join a game that's currently in session if there is enough time left in it.
On top of that, the voice chat makes it very easy to communicate with buddies for coordinated strategies. On the flip side, you can always mute other players if you don't want to hear random strangers. While not necessary, I personally find it better to play with a decent pair of headphones or AirPods.
Touch controls and controller support
Touch controls have gotten better and better every year and I can't stress how smooth and comfortable Catalyst Black's are. The buttons are all well defined so you can tell where to push and everything reacts the way you want it to. What's more, the buttons are off to the sides and away from the main action at the center so I didn't feel like my hands got in the way of my view whether I was playing this iOS game on iPhone or iPad.
Now, I do prefer to play mobile games with a controller whenever I can as it feels more comfortable for me. In the case of Catalyst Black, I preferred to use my Xbox One controller while my iPad Air was propped up. This game also works with the Razer Kishi for iPhone, or PlayStation controllers, so if you have any lying around I suggest you use them.
Catalyst Black: What's not good
As I talked about earlier, some modes offer multiple ways of winning, which allows you to change course if it looks like the other team is ahead in one area. Say in Hydra you realize that the other team has almost defeated your Overseer, you might decide to switch from attacking their Overseer to collecting Shards if you think that gives you a better chance of winning. However, sometimes having these various options makes the rounds drag on. This is especially true if the teams aren't communicating and working together toward one common goal.
On another topic, I'm always wary of free-to-play games as several of them eventually force players to hit some kind of paywall or worse — reveal themselves to be of the pay-to-win variety. While I never felt like I needed to buy anything with real money in order to keep up with other Catalyst Black players, it's possible this could still be something that exists further along in the game whether intentionally or unintentionally planned for.
Catalyst Black: Should you play it?
With its vibrant colors, varied modes, and loadout customization, Catalyst Black is one of the most satisfying battleground shooters on mobile. It's fun to play and the game is responsive whether you're using touch controls or a traditional controller. Plus, it's designed in such a way that you can easily jump in and out of sessions without having to wait long. All in all, it's the perfect team experience to play with friends.
The only downsides are that some games can drag on, especially if teams aren't communicating toward a common goal. On another note, while there are in-game purchases, I personally didn't feel like I needed to buy any gear in order to do well — a huge plus since many mobile games tend to feel this way.
Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.